Santa Cruz Commons

Santa Cruz Commons opens a space for the collaboration of community activists
and activist academics who seek innovative solutions at the local level
to social and economic problems that seem intransigent in a national context.

To initiate the project, Professor Gina Langhout worked with Rachel Robnett, a graduate student in Psychology, to design and conduct a survey about the research and community interests of UCSC faculty – and about their willingness to mentor students in a community context. Most of the sixty faculty who responded have already established or are interested in establishing partnerships in the community. Their responses helped to shape Santa Cruz Commons’ inter-active web-site, which also provides information about local service and advocacy groups and tracks changing and developing networks of university-community collaboration.

With MAH (Museum of Art and History) and CCREC (UC Center for Collaborative Research for an Equitable California), Santa Cruz Commons co-sponsored two university/community dialogues, “Realizing a Progressive Vision of Santa Cruz,” which were facilitated by Mike Rotkin, who has worked closely with the group throughout the year. Craig Reinarman (Professor, Sociology) and Scott MacDonald (Chief Probation Officer for Santa Cruz County), led a third dialogue on criminal justice. All were well attended and discussions were lively.

Participants in Santa Cruz Commons offered three classes/workshops in 2012. In spring, Professor Sharon Daniel taught advanced undergraduates in a course on community documentation, in which students developed interactive “maps” of progressive community groups and designed prototypes for interactive web interfaces. (She will continue to teach this class in alternate years.) Nancy Chen extended the mapping project through the summer with a group of volunteer interns. In conjunction with Chen’s class, Santa Cruz Commons allocated seed-grants to 3 non-profit groups: the California Rural Legal Assistance Program (Watsonville), Gemma House (Santa Cruz) and Mariposa's Art (Watsonville.) Throughout the year, Helene Moglen and Sheila Namir, a community psychologist and psychoanalyst, taught “Fighting for Words,” a writing workshop for local veterans, which was sponsored by the Bill Motto Post 5888. The veterans’ writing workshop will continue as the first in a larger program of writing projects with university and community participants.

Throughout the year, participants expressed their concern that Santa Cruz Commons not focus their efforts on the city of Santa Cruz alone but include Watsonville and the relation of the two as a central aspect of its programming. In discussions of a webinar with the activist Grace Lee Boggs, participants began to consider how multiple social issues could be engaged through their emphasis on that general theme: the social, economic, cultural, and political relations of the north and south areas of Santa Cruz county. The description of Detroit Summer, in Boggs’ book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century (2011) helped them to see how this focus would also enable the transition of Santa Cruz Commons from a mapping project to the development of a social movement grounded in community based research, education, and art.

As co-directors of Santa Cruz Commons, Langhout and Moglen have written grant proposals for “Santa Cruz County Summer 2014.” If they receive funding, they will work as part of a community-university steering committee to plan collaborative activities (e.g. dialogues, reading and writing groups, story circles, local history, research, and interview projects) that will allow participants to engage commonalities and differences that have shadowed and shaped many aspects of the community’s life. Outreach efforts will be focused on those who have been recipients of social and public services, since solutions must include the perspectives of those who are most affected by structural inequities (for example, returning veterans, “adrift” teenagers, formerly incarcerated youth and adults, the elderly, gang members, public school students, and the variously “unemployed”).